Chapter Forty-Two

“Sounds good!” Grimory rushes forward, leaping and slashing at Hymdall, but is parried by the huge sword.

Alisbeth stifles a shout, reminding herself of the bet before breaking it. She leaps forward at the huge man, dragging her hook across his calf. Deciding a little assistance couldn’t hurt, she raises her weapon and summons a huge abomination and six ghouls to aid in the fight.

Koltira stares at Alisbeth, confusion spearing through his mind. He blinks to reorganize his thoughts, then rushes to join the fight.

Juliember throws slow heals on everyone to keep their health steady. She smiles at the mage, then showers her with leaves.

Anarchaia flinches as a leaf flutters past her nose. “That’s really not n—”

A massive replica of the man’s sword materializes and spins at the Forsaken and she leans away, stumbling out of its cyclonic path. She curses quietly and runs to the other side of the room, casting short bursts of fire at Hymdall the entire way. Grimory does his best to serve as a distraction for the others.

Hymdall growls and swings his sword in a large arc, taking out most of Alisbeth’s minions, then slashes at Grimory’s body with the backswing.

“Thank me later,” the druid hisses under her breath, then concentrates on keeping the rest of them healed.

Alisbeth lunges backward just as a dragon sweeps by, covering the area in lightning and fog. She leaps forward, dropping her weapon and grabbing her tingling feet. She wants to cry out for the pain, but she doesn’t. Instead, she stands and swings her weapon around to hook into the huge man’s calf, then yanks to pull his leg out from under him.

Grimory gives a yelp of surprise as a blast of electricity hits him from behind. He scurries to an unaffected part of the room and turns just as the man falls with a groan of agony. The demon hunter scoops up the gigantic sword, his muscles straining. With all his might be hurls the blade directly at the man, but Hymdall manages to roll away and retrieve it again.

“Not quite!” the vrykul calls with a laugh.

Anarchaia hurls a large shard of ice at the man’s face. It shatters and he howls, momentarily blinded.

Koltira hooks the tip of Byfrost into Hymdall’s other calf and yanks it the opposite direction from Alisbeth.

“Look out!” Juliember shouts as a dragon swoops their way to breathe more lightning and fog across the walkway. She blinks forward as a tiger, then comes back up to continue throwing heals on them.

Alisbeth and Koltira dislodge their weapons and run for safety.

Anarchaia turns at the last moment to see the dragon flying toward her. She teleports a few yards to get to safety and hurls more shards of ice at their opponent.

Grimory growls as a jolt of electricity runs up his leg again and he stumbles back. The distraction is enough for Hymdall to slice the blood elf’s chest open with a upward slash as he struggles to free his legs. Grimory bites back a cry of pain and instead rushes forward to rip a gash in Hymdall’s forehead.

Alisbeth’s throat closes in frustration as she tries to get Hymdall’s attention without making any noise. She taps Koltira urgently on the shoulder and points at the injured demon hunter.

Koltira growls. “Juliember has heals under con—”

Alisbeth hits him.

Fine. You know, you’re really taking this silence thing—”

She hits him again and shoves him forward.

Koltira throws out a purple tendril to pull the huge man to him. It doesn’t work, but now his attention is on the death knight. Koltira readies himself for a hard hit. “You got me?” he shouts to the druid.

Juliember nods. “Of course I do!”

Grimory bristles as blood pours freely down his front. “I had it under control!”

Hymdall turns on Koltira and runs the front of his blade toward the death knight’s middle with a cry of determination.

Juliember throws everything she has on Grimory, including a generous Swiftmend.

Koltira throws red decay under Hymdall’s feet and growls at Grimory. “Stop trying to prove something!” With effort, the death knight parries, knocking the huge sword to the side. It instead slashes across Alisbeth’s middle and she falls to the ground as another dragon swoops in to drop lightning on top of them.

“I’m n—” Grimory gives an angry growl at the third wave of lightning. From the corner of his eye, he catches Alisbeth falling. He grits his teeth through the pain and leaps to her, swiftly picking her up and jumping again to safety lest she succumb to electricity.

Anarchaia summons the visage of a fiery dragon’s head above herself with a raised hand. She brings down her palm and the dragon’s mouth opens. Flames roar from between its teeth and wash over the vrykul man.

Hymdall stumbles backward out of the ring and shields himself against the fire with his arms. “All right! I’ve seen enough!” he yells as the fire subsides. He breathes heavily and wipes the blood from his eyes. “I…am bested. You may pass.”

Grimory ignores the man and beckons for Juliember’s attention, motioning pointedly for her to heal the woman in his arms.

Alisbeth reaches a blood-soaked hand up to Grimory and smears it across his face, shaking with the laughter she knows she must keep quiet.

Grimory scowls at Alisbeth but allows the smearing of blood on his face.

The druid approaches, using her healing touch to get the death knight’s wound closed. “War paint,” she says with a chuckle, observing the smears on Grimory.

Koltira runs over, kneeling to make sure she’s okay. “Ali, Gods, I’m so sorry.”

She waves a dismissive hand at him.

“I didn’t think you were close enough to get hurt.”

She leans closer to him, still waving her hand.

“I never meant—”

She shoves her hand over his mouth. Feeling much better, Alisbeth pops up to track down her weapon.

“It’s been, like, fifteen minutes, you know,” Grimory calls after her.

Anarchaia trots over to examine the huge vrykul man. “I’m sorry it got so violent. Are you okay? Can I help?”

Hymdall gives a deep, gravelly laugh. “Save your kindness, tiny mage. It’s wasted here. Go on. Leave me my pride.”

Alisbeth flicks the blood from her hook and stomps over to Grimory. She holds out a hand for her reward.

He blinks then chuckles. Reaching into the pouch behind his belt, he pulls out ten gold pieces and lets them pour into her palm. “You win.”

She throws the gold at him and shakes her head.

Koltira chuckles. “I believe the bet was two copper for five minutes.”

Alisbeth holds up two fingers and points at her palm.

Grimory gives her a sneer. “You gave us a bunch of money we didn’t want. Now I’ll do the same.” He stands, leaving the money on the ground. “Take it or leave it,” he says with a shrug and walks away, thumbs behind his belt.

Alisbeth growls and scoops up the money, then hands it to the druid, who pockets it happily, then drops two more copper into the death knight’s palm. Alisbeth puts the copper in her pack, then throws her hood back and unbuckles her helm to remove it. Koltira begins laughing uncontrollably. In her mouth, Alisbeth has stuffed three dalapenos. She spits them into her hand and smiles.

“You didn’t think I could do it, but I did it, and now you’re mad because you lost a bet and now I have two more copper and you seriously don’t think I can shut up for five minutes I mean come on how silly is that? I am so good at being quiet. Gravity? Hey, Gravity! Are you listening to me?” Alisbeth runs after Grimory.

Juliember furrows her brow. “That’s not his name…”

Koltira laughs openly. “Alisbeth seems to have trouble with names she didn’t know before she died. Ali, what’s our friendly druid’s name?”

Alisbeth smiles. “Jupiter! Hi Jupiter!” She waves at the troll, who raises an eyebrow.

“You get used to it,” Anarchaia mumbles as she passes, pulling her hood back over her head.

“You want me to say I’m impressed? Well I’m impressed. Not angry. Proud, even.” The demon hunter sticks his nose in the air. “Plus, I thought I’d made it pretty clear how I feel about losing bets.” When she catches up, he ruffles her hair now that he has the opportunity.

Hymdall and Anarchaia exchange glances. “You…are champions, yes?” the man asks with a hint of disgust.

The mage gives an embarrassed shrug and slides off to follow her party.

Alisbeth giggles under his hand ruffling her hair. She jumps onto his back with some trouble due to her shirt, then gives up and slides back down to pull at his arm. “Hey! Hey! Bet me something else! Two copper. I have four now so I can afford to lose. Won’t make me a beggar in the streets. Nope!”

Grimory furrows his brow down at her. “You realize we could just give you your money back, yes?”

Alisbeth stops walking and pouts. “No you wouldn’t.”

Grimory turns to look at her. “Why wouldn’t we? Why do you insist we keep it so badly?”

She thinks as Koltira moves her forward by the arm. “Because you’re my friends. And because it pays for things. And because I want…to help.”

The druid smiles. “It be a sweet gesture, methinks.”

Anarchaia sobers at the back of their group. “We’ll keep it if it means that much to you, Ali.”

Grimory shrugs and presses onward with a grin. “You can always earn it back in bets.”

The death knight puts her helmet back on and raises her hood, using it more as a shield to hide her frown. Why am I so bad at this?

Koltira jogs ahead to Grimory to speak alone. “We need to work together, okay? No lone hero bullshit.”

The demon hunter shoots him an irritated glance. “I know how to do my job.” His fel-warped claws return with a rush of fire and he rushes ahead to the next group of enemies without waiting for a response.

Koltira glares as the druid tiger rushes past, popping up with a growl as she maintains his health. He grips Byfrost and runs into the fight. Alisbeth soon joins the fight, but unenthusiasticly.

After the party tears through enemies one pack at a time, they eventually come to the Halls themselves. A T-junction stops them as they enter, the corridors on either side lined with food-laden tables and ale. The path straight ahead, however, is barricaded with a door of lightning and steel.

“Which way?” Grimory asks, turning to look at the group over his shoulder.

Alisbeth sets her hook on the ground and spins it. After a few turns it stops, pointing to the right. “Does that work?”

Koltira chuckles. “I’d say that’s as good of method as any.”

“Good enough for me!” Grimory again takes off, running down the hallway and grabbing the attention of every enemy in sight.

Anarchaia gives a sigh of annoyance and runs after, once more summoning a blizzard to aid him.

Juliember growls. “How upset would everyone be if I let that idiot kill himself?”

“Hmm,” Koltira thinks about it. “I’m sure we’d manage…”

Alisbeth’s mouth drops open behind her helm and she gives a small cry. “No. Just, no,” she whines.

The druid smirks and winks at Alisbeth, then blinks forward into her tiger form to catch up.

“Yes, please don’t,” the mage murmurs from the back. “We may be able to revive everyone but the mental scars are permanent.”

Grimory makes short work of a runecarver before the man can heal his allies, then avoids an arrow sent from a ranger out of his reach.

Alisbeth jumps up to Grimory, miscalculating and bumping into his side. She smiles at him, again forgetting that her face is covered. A shadowy tendril reaches out and grabs the Ranger, dragging her to them. The ranger leaps backward out of their reach again. Alisbeth scoffs. “You bitch!”

Koltira stands behind her. “Ready your ice.” He pulls the ranger to them and Alisbeth freezes her feet to the ground, then works to kill her before the ice melts and she is free to bound away again.

Grimory gives Alisbeth an assuring grin and slices through another enemy.

Anarchaia sends forth a barrage of violet spears, each one crashing into an enemy. Behind her, however, another ranger steps forth from the shadows and takes aim. The arrow lodges itself into the mage’s shoulder, just below the collar bone. Anarchaia gives a cry of pain and surprise and instinctively covers the wound with a hand to hide the green liquid oozing from it. She turns and, with her free hand, hurls a flame in the shape of a phoenix at her assailant.

Koltira’s mouth drops open to a frown as he places himself between Alisbeth and Anarchaia.

Juliember reaches over to break the arrow’s shaft and yank it out, paying no mind to Anarchaia’s yelp. She tosses the broken wood aside and heals the wound without a word. She smiles at the mage and returns to her work to make sure everyone is healed.

She blinks up at the druid and rolls her shoulder to ensure it is, in fact healed.

Koltira runs over. “Are you alright?” he asks low.

Turning to Koltira, she gives a nod. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thank you.” With an unseen smile, she scampers past him after Grimory and toward another swirling portal at the end of the hall. He’s just being nice. As always.

Grimory skids to a stop when, after a blinding light washes over him, he realizes he’s standing in a lush forest of greens and yellows. A nearby stormdrake breathes lightning over a herd of yaks and deer; leaves flutter about and into a pond down the path. He admires the scenery and gives the others a moment to follow.

Alisbeth grins under her mask. “I like that dragon! A beast after my own heart. Let’s go capture it!”

Koltira appears behind her just in time to wrap an arm around her waist. “No, let’s stay together and stick to the plan.”

“Oh, but I wanted to see her get electrocuted. Let her go. Ten gold says she lasts five seconds.” Juliember laughs.

The mage narrows her eyes at the troll. “What did I just say?”

Grimory gives a chuckle and shakes his head. “As much as I love carnage, let’s make this go as smoothly as possible, yeah?” He heads off down the path and engages the dragon from behind, slashing at the back of its ankle in an attempt to cripple it.

Juliember grins at the mage. “I did not say I’d let her die. Ever seen a bucking bronco?” She winks, transforms into a purple-furred doe, lowers her head and flings Alisbeth onto her back before galloping after Grimory.

I’M RIDING A DRUID!” Alisbeth screams excitedly. She leaps from the doe’s back and onto the dragon’s, then holds on for dear life.

“Gods dammit,” Koltira says, running after them.

Alisbeth goes flying from the dragon’s back and lands on Koltira. “Was that ten seconds?”

He lowers his brow. “No. Now go kill it.”

“Okay!” She jumps up and runs to join Grimory at the legs.

The demon hunter ducks beneath the dragon and positions himself beneath its belly. He buries his claws into the flesh between the thick sections and smiles as he’s showered with a cascade of blood.

Anarchaia simply passes up the group, knowing they’ll easily take care of the single dragon without her help.

Koltira stops, watching Anarchaia run away from the group. “Ana!” The dragon batters him with a wing, flinging him to the ground.

Alisbeth hooks her weapon into the beast’s neck to cut its esophagus in half.

Anarchaia turns at the sound of her name, then grits her teeth when she sees Koltira struck to the ground. She blinks to his side and kneels to help him up. “Are you all right?”

The dragon gives a final groan of agony and falls, legs flailing one last time before it lies motionless in the grass.

Grimory gives Alisbeth a blood-soaked grin, resisting the urge to sweep her into a hug. “Nice job! That hook is super useful!”

Koltira shrugs and dusts himself off. “Just my pride. But we should probably stick together. We don’t know what’s in these woods and you’re the most vulnerable of all of us.”

Alisbeth lifts her face cover to grin at Grimory. “Isn’t it?” She throws it over a shoulder and poses dramatically. “And it looks amazing.” She leaps to sit side-saddle on the doe as it races past to stand near Anarchaia.

Anarchaia bristles but remains composed. “I appreciate your concern, but I know my way out of a tight situation. You had it under control. I was going ahead to scout.”

“Well don’t,” Grimory says as he passes, making his way down the path.

Koltira purses his lips at the demon hunter’s bluntness. “I don’t doubt that you can take care of yourself, I just think it best that we stick together, near the healer we took the time to hire.”

“Can we keep her?” Alisbeth calls, reaching down to stroke the lavender fur as the druid follows Grimory. Her mask falls over her smile with a metallic clang.

Anarchaia offers no response, but instead follows the druid. “That’s really up to her,” she chuckles, hands filling with fire as Grimory attacks a group of archers.

The druid shifts, throwing Alisbeth onto the ground. Unfazed, the death knight runs forward to help keep the archers from leaping away. Koltira joins at her shoulder and they work together, pulling and freezing the archers in place.

When the crowd is dead, Grimory steps forward to the encampment but stops when he sees a massive wolf feasting on the corpse of a yak. He hesitates. “Uh…is that thing next?”

The beast’s ears prick and it looks at the group. A moment passes before he gives a bestial howl and leaps forward, tackling the demon hunter under its massive paws.

Anarchaia throws a shard of ice at the beast and it turns its sights on her instead, lunging with jaws open.

“Oh, no you don’t!” Alisbeth shouts, hooking her weapon into its side and planting her feet. She digs her heels into the dirt, but is dragged along anyway as the beast focuses on the mage.

Juliember throws a shining aura around Anarchaia and prepares to heal any wounds instantly.

Koltira also tries to distract the wolf, leaping in front of it and shouting. It plows right past him.

Anarchaia swallows hard and backs away. “Regret.”

Grimory scrambles to his feet and sprints to the animal. His arms double in size, spikes poking through the muscle and skin. His eyes crackling ferociously, he utilizes his massive claws to grab the wolf’s unaffected back leg, pulling with all his might. “Look…at…me, damn it!

The beast turns sharply and snaps at the two behind him, slaver spraying.

Alisbeth drops to her rear and looks up at the wolf. “Um…s’cuse me!” She runs to its side and rips her hook out of its flesh.

Without asking, Koltira grabs Anarchaia around the waist and moves her to a safer location away from the beast.

Grimory gives a snort of a laugh and dodges the animal’s flashing fangs as he rolls out of reach of its maw. “Ali, try to get him in the eyes!” He dodges yet another attack, the wolf coming at him fast enough to leave him no room to retaliate.

Anarchaia gives a frustrated noise as she’s swept away. “Koltira, really! Stop worrying about me!” She throws a ball of fire toward the wolf when she’s set down. “I told you I’m fine. I could have handled it.” She hurls a few more.

He points in her face. “When a creature that size comes for you, you run. You froze. Stay back!” He runs forward to slash at the legs of the wolf in hopes of crippling it.

Alisbeth jumps up to hook the wolf in the eye. The ball bursts and the wolf cries out, shaking its head and knocking her away into a tree.

Juliember helps her up. “Anything broken?”

Alisbeth hmphs. “No. I’m fine.”

“Good jo-aagh!” Grimory commends, but is also knocked away and into a rotting fence. The thrashing beast takes off running down the path, deeper into the forest.

This time Anarchaia cannot contain her irritation. “You’re not my boss!” she hisses as he runs off, then covers her ears at the wolf’s cries of agony. Gritting her teeth, she follows the animal down the trail, avoiding the bloody paw tracks.

“My hook!” Alisbeth screams, shoving past Anarchaia to run after the animal at high speed. The druid follows, scooping her up again to ride her, but then screeches to a halt before a small pack of wolves.

Koltira’s brow lowers and he sneers at the emotion fluttering through him, which feels somthing like betrayal. “Fine,” he shouts behind her, “get eaten!” He clenches his jaw and waits so he can be the last in line chasing the beast.

Guilt pangs through the mage’s chest immediately after she turns. Ugh! Grow up, Ana! This is why nobody likes you! She pushes past the druid and lifts both hands. A blue ring forms around the smaller animals, then, in an instant, they freeze solid, their eyes peering out from the ice in wild confusion.

“Thanks, Ana!” Grimory salutes her before running past and raking his claws into the frozen animals.

Alisbeth ignores the smaller animals and runs straight for the big wolf, determined to get her hook back.

“Ali, stop!” Koltira shouts.

She skids to a halt and turns back. “But, my hook!”

“We’ll get it! come help with these.”

With a pout she runs over, calling an abomination to help, since she is weaponless.

Grimory makes short work of one of the wolves and dodges the claws of another as it breaks free of its icy prison and lunges at him. Then again dodges a shard of violet energy as it sails over his shoulder and into the skull of another animal.

Anarchaia gives an innocent shrug and waves a hand. “Sorry!”

With no weapon, Alisbeth stands by Koltira, kicking at the head of the wolf he’s fighting. The abomination waddles over, pummeling the animal flat.

“Simon says: be a carpet,” the druid says, laughing as she weaves her spells as needed.

The mage swallows a disgusted groan from the back, then follows the party until they again come upon the great beast. The wolf, now blind in one eye, licks the blood from its paws and wounded back legs. Pity strikes through Anarchaia and she turns away when Grimory rushes the animal once again.

The Illidari’s claws rend through the wolf’s front shoulder, causing it to yelp and turn to snap at him. A fang catches Grimory on the forearm, leaving a deep puncture wound, and he grits his teeth but continues his attack.

Juliember throws the glowing aura on Grimory, then several heals to close the wound in his arm.

Alisbeth rushes forward and grabs onto her hook, one hand wrapped around the curling ram’s horns of the demon skull on the side, the other firmly on the handle as she kicked her feet, trying to yank it from the wolf’s eye socket.

Koltira rushes forward, one hand swinging his sword and the other trying to grab hold of Alisbeth.

Wanting to end this as quickly and painlessly as possible, Anarchaia takes a step back and looks to the sky. Seeing enough room between the trees, she lifts a hand over her head. Red and orange waves of magic circle her feet, kicking up dust and causing her robes to flutter.

Grimory barks a thanks to the druid, lurching forward to grab the animal by the jaws and steady it so Alisbeth can retrieve her weapon. His elbows quiver with the effort. “Ali, hurry!”

The hook comes free with a spatter of blood raining down on the death knight. She slides under him and hooks into his flesh. “His hide is too thick! I can’t cut him open!” She flinches at the giant paws stomping the ground around her.

“Guys, I advise you move!” the mage calls.

Not hearing, Grimory releases the beast’s jaws and jumps away as it snaps at him again. It turns and brings up a back claw to paw at the death knight beneath its belly.

Alisbeth twists her hook as the paw comes down, the curve digs into the animals paw and he howls in pain.

“Ali, move!” Koltira shouts. But she doesn’t hear him over the howling and she is trapped by the other paws.

Juliember clenches her jaw and prepares for the worst, focusing everything she has on the two.

Anarchaia gives a cry of panic and frustration. Her raised palm fills with fire and swirling white light. I can’t hold it. “GRIM! CHAINS! NOW!”

The demon hunter blinks back at her. His eyes widen and he scrambles to set his hands on the ground. “Right! Sorry!” A yellow circle slithers its way around the dirt and grass. A sigil glows within the center and from it spring chains; they wrap around the beast’s front paws and pull it toward the middle of the ring.

Anarchaia holds her breath and flicks her fingers in the slightest of ways. A flash pulses across the sky and, from the atmosphere, a small piece of debris slices through the air. It strikes the wolf between the shoulder blades. Blood and viscera and fire burst forth from the impact, causing Grimory to stumble backward into the grass. When the dust settles, all that remains is clumps of smoking fur and flesh.

Alisbeth curls into a ball to avoid the debris of the exploded animal. The druid blinks out of range as Koltira turns his back and ducks.

Once the pieces are done falling, Alisbeth jumps to her feet. “I knew you were one of us!” She leaps over the animal chunks and bones to grab Anarchaia in an enthusiastic hug. “I’m keeping you forever! I love this mage!” She places Anarchaia on her shoulder as she had in earlier days of their adventure.

“One of…huh?” Anarchaia stirs atop Alisbeth’s shoulder, the mana consumption making her dizzy.

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